In Defense of Figureheads
I have goosebumps,” says Rivera, 65, born to a Catholic, Puerto Rican father and Jewish mother. He defines himself as the former. … “It finally happened. Wow. Look how the Puerto Rican community came up with someone so world-class,” says Rivera of Sotomayor . . .
Our resident attorney, the estimable Mark Thompson, has already provided some much-needed context for Sotomayor’s more controversial utterances, but I think Rivera’s point is worth expanding on. Obviously, elevating a woman of Puerto Rican descent to the Supreme Court isn’t going to magically save her ethnic community. In fact, I doubt Sotomayor’s appointment will have any material impact on the well-being of Puerto Rican (or Latino) citizens.
There is something to be said, however, for a governing class that actually reflects our diverse electorate, and appointing an otherwise well-qualified jurist who also happens to be Hispanic strikes me as a decent way to signal that there is some meaningful connection between the citizenry and its political leadership.
I also think there’s a persuasive conservative case to be made in favor of diversifying the upper tiers of American government. Commentators of all stripes will occasionally note the growing disconnect between elites and the electorate, but this complaint is aired more frequently by observers on the Right, who decry the decline of civic and community participation, harp on the fact that fewer citizens are paying income taxes, and are generally appreciative of a dose of good old-fashioned populism.
Sometimes this tendency goes too far, but the central insight behind these criticisms is that citizens ought to retain some tangible connection to their government and their communities, that an engaged citizenry is the best way to combat corruption and safeguard liberty, and that our constitutional system would be hollow indeed without an enduring tradition of civic participation. This outlook is fundamentally inclusive, and it emphasizes the importance of getting people involved in the business of government.
This would all be a moot point if Sotomayor was under-qualified for a seat on the Supreme Court, but I don’t think anyone is seriously questioning her impressive credentials. Ceteris paribus, I think it’s eminently reasonable (desirable, even) to seek out a diverse array of candidates for high-ranking government positions. Bush, to his credit, seemed to understand this. I’m not terribly worried if Obama follows suit.